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Durham University

Research & business

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Publication details for Professor Cheryl McEwan

McEwan, C., Hughes, A. & Bek, D. (2017). Fairtrade, place and moral economy: between abstract ethical discourse and the moral experience of Northern Cape farmers. Environment and Planning A 49(3): 572-591.

Author(s) from Durham


This paper explores the significance of the relationships and disjunctures between the global moral discourses of Fairtrade that are articulated through ethics of fairness in supply chains and the everyday moral experiences, discourses and practices of producers that shape moral economies in specific localities. Due to increased governance through universal codes, standards and certification, Fairtrade risks becoming an abstract ethical and regulatory tool, disconnected from the moral economies of those poor farmers it is intended to benefit. In response, the paper makes a case for a deeper understanding of the moral economies of farmers involved in Fairtrade networks and the ways in which these emerge out of moral experiences that are deeply embedded in local social and cultural relations. Through a case study of Eksteenskuil Agricultural Cooperative in South Africa’s Northern Cape, it seeks to demonstrate the importance of understanding the moral experiences of producers to better consider what is at stake for them, focusing on notions of cooperation, fairness and the ‘good farmer’, perceptions of community, and concerns with survival and self-sufficiency. The paper concludes that working in culturally-sensitive ways with producer communities and understanding how their local moral worlds are structured is vital in bridging the gap between abstract ethical discourses and the place-based moral experiences of producers, and to ensuring the effectiveness of Fairtrade initiatives.